Brennan Jontz and I planned to chase together for this event.
Brennan had to work the morning of the event, so I wasn’t able to pick him up and get on the road until 11am. That’s okay; we still had plenty of time to get to our target area of Hannibal, MO by initiation. We planned to pick up an observer/photographer “Tami” in Mount Pleasant on our way down.
We met up with Ben McMillan and Tim Jones from WeatherNation with their rider Zach Sharpe(!) outside of Hannibal, MO, and spent a few minutes catching up with each other’s lives since the 2015 season. While our crew was not formally chasing with WeatherNation, we all knew each other so it was natural to travel together in a caravan.
After reviewing weather data, we agreed to top off our tanks and head across the river into Illinois just as storms began to initiate. There were several nice looking cells starting to form, but cell coverage was scattered at best, so getting current radar data was challenging. We noticed several other chasers in the vicinity.
We stopped on a side road so the WeatherNation guys could do a live broadcast. After some discussion, two decisions were made at this point:
1. We decided to break off from the caravan with WeatherNation because we felt their frequent stopping was slowing us down and we feared a particularly healthy cell to our North was slipping away from us;
2. For logistical reasons, Zach Sharpe was going to ride in our vehicle because he knew we would be heading back to the Des Moines metro area that evening, and he had a speaking engagement in Des Moines the next day.
We waved goodbye to Ben and Tim, then headed north to intercept a strong cell up by Quincy, IL. The system was starting to accelerate eastward at a pretty good clip, so staying ahead of it was difficult – we were never able to stop for more than a few minutes to observe it before we had to get back in the Jeep and drive. To compound matters, we kept running into moderate amounts of hail covering the road, which required careful (read:slow) driving. There were three strong velocity couplets on radar, and we were near one of them. Visually we had a very nice wall cloud with a deep RFD cut about 2 miles from us. It looked like a tornado was imminent, but despite several rotating lowerings we never saw a fully condensed funnel or ground interaction. All three cells were tornado warned, and were starting to wrap in rain. Damage reports were coming in from Good Hope, just a mile or two away. We went through the city of Good Hope, and saw mild damage, downed street signs and debris. As rotation intensified, we followed this cell up to Avon, IL, in heavy RFD winds but we were slowed by trees across the road and various other debris. Ground speed on these cells were approaching 50mph now – nearly impossible to keep up with. As we went north on HWY 41 we encountered HEAVY HAIL FOG, which slowed traffic to a 5mph crawl for a mile or so. We went farther north to Abingdon where we observed deep flood water across the road. We chose to call the chase at that time due to darkness and inability to keep up with the cell, not to mention the dangers lurking in the darkness (debris, flooding). Reports began coming in of tornado damage in Springfield, where well-known chaser Skip Talbot’s home was missed by only a block!
With a nice lightning show in the distance, we stopped for pizza in Galesburg IL before heading home.